There is a long legacy of militarized policing in the U.S. Manifestations of it include COINTEL-PRO, which investigated Black liberation movement leaders from the time of Marcus Garvey to Martin Luther King and members of the Black Panther. The kind of tactics used were those that were understood to be reserved for non-U.S. citizens. In addition, some sources suggest that drugs like crack were introduced into Black communities to destabilize its social movements. During the 80s & 90s, moreover, the War on Drugs criminalized communities impacted by the crack epidemic.  

According to a  Vox Report “the federal government helped militarize local and state police departments in an attempt to better equip them in the fight against drugs. The Pentagon’s  1033 program , which gives   surplus military-grade equipment  to police, was created in the 1990s as part of President George HW Bush’s escalation of the War on Drugs. The deployment of SWAT teams, as reported by the ACLU , also increased during the past few decades, and 62 percent of SWAT raids in 2011 and 2012 were for drug searches.”

Following President Barack Obama’s moratorium on the transfer of surplus military-grade equipment and weaponry, the President Donald Trump shifted policy to make the surplus of weapons, vehicles, and other equipment more readily available to civilian police departments, thereby militarizing our law enforcement policies and practices. Attorney General Jeff Sessions reportedly stated to officers at a police convention, “We have your back and you have our thanks.”

The militarization of the police examines the behavior and tactics of domestic law enforcement, including the equipment they use, and is currently indistinguishable from soldiers fighting on distant battlefields. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called militarism one of “the triplets of evil.” Today’s domestic militarism is defined as the overuse of public resources, energy, and its focus toward war. For instance, public funding that would support employment, housing, infrastructure and education are instead utilized in war-making capacity. Researchers connect decreasing social safety  and public support to increasing military and domestic law enforcement funding. In the absence of a draft, people in marginalized communities are often economically pressed into military and police service. Through grants, local law enforcement around the country have received much of the surplus military weapons and equipment. 

Some argue that police training does not equip local officers with the specialized training to use these weapons. Others suggest that these high grade weapons are used without concern for the extent of damage they can cause. The technology is often an excuse for the violent and aggressive behavior they reinforce. One Truth Teller and her son share their story of militaristic behavior that saw her as an enemy combatant ( click here ).

The U.S. military budget is  largest  in the world not just because of the military, but the use of private security firms and contracts for the purchase of weapons and military vehicles. There is a circular relationship between private security companies like Black Water, weapons, and equipment manufacturers who receive tax rebates while lobbying politicians to sell their goods abroad.   

During the height of the war in Iraq, the organization Code Pink and the leadership of 30 cities around the country demanded that the U.S. government convert its war spending into infrastructure development. The Friends Legislative Service Committee and the War Resisters League report that the over abundance of weapons and military gear often ends up in the hands of local police departments for storage. During the protests in NYC, Baltimore, and Ferguson, law enforcement unhesitatingly used military grade weapons on communities of color as if fighting trained soldiers on foreign soil. The militarized approach of policing in the wake of Ferguson revealed to many the level of technological and sophisticated warfare that could be unleashed arbitrarily upon any group standing up for their rights. Obama’s executive order to stop such transfers was limited because it did not address the millions in grant money that are available to law enforcement across the country. Broadly speaking, militarization continues to one of the major avenues for U.S. economic development, where weapons and equipment manufacturers receive government contract despite the impact the militaristic behavior on communities of color.


“We have an impoverished democracy, which is why we have to have massive, nonviolent, moral fusion, civil disobedience, massive voter mobilization among the poor, and massive power building among the poor.”  

–Reverend Dr. Barber, The Poor People’s Campaign

The work of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s–the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Immigration and Nationality Act, along with legislation to implement anti-poverty programs–drew attention to the connections between racism, education, food security, employment, and health care. In 1966, Dr Martin Luther King addressed public perception that the oppressive practices of Jim Crow were becoming a thing of the past and that the Black community had “come a long, long way.” Responding to deeper, systemic root cause of poverty, Dr. King warned, “we still have a long, long way to go.” While gains have been made in the past 50 years, if we look at the 38% increase in Black students graduating from college, greater income increases than any other communities of color, and an emergent Black middle class community, “The Souls of Poor Folk,” an audit of America 50 years after the Poor People’s Campaign challenged racism, poverty, the war economy/militarism, and our national morality, reports:

racial wealth gaps have widened and patterns of gentrification pushed the poor, especially poor people of color in urban centers, further away from jobs, transportation, education and other services. The percentage of people living in deep or extreme poverty has increased since 1975. By 2016, 46 percent of people living in poverty had incomes less than half of the poverty line.

In addition to regressive policies to the Voting Rights Act, immigration and other actions that dehumanize and criminalize and oppress Black and communities of color, wealth and resources, measured by an individual or community’s net worth, is unequally distributed by race. Structural poverty is manifestation of racism and refers to the economic, educational, social institutions in the United States that contribute to systems that prey on impoverished communities while failing provide any hope through real ways out of poverty.   

Two of the twelve Fundamental Principles crafted by 2018 The Poor People’s Campaign directly address the structural nature of poverty. These are:

… people should not live in or die from poverty in the richest nation ever to exist. Blaming the poor and claiming that the United States does not have an abundance of resources to overcome poverty are false narratives used to perpetuate economic exploitation, exclusion, and deep inequality. … the centrality of systemic racism in maintaining economic oppression must be named, detailed and exposed empirically, morally and spiritually. Poverty and economic inequality cannot be understood apart from a society built on white supremacy.

In Black and many communities of color, poverty is intergenerational affecting the outlook for later generations. In part, this is because a high school diploma, and now more so – a college degree impacts whether your children will achieve academically. As well, neighborhoods with extreme poverty, also have high crime rates, making it more likely for children from marginalized communities to have run ins with law enforcement. Policies like ‘separate but equal’ made sure that education for African Americans was inferior; while urban renewal oversaw the creation of the housing projects whose policies concentrated low income families Black families in one area.

Because of these historical legacies, many Black and Brown families lack of available resources to obtain resources to choose better schools or housing , resulting in continued disadvantages for present and future generations. Housing policy favors those already wealthy enough to buy a home and leads to displacement and economic segregation. Tax policy frequently favors the wealthy. Unequal education opportunities contribute to the entrenchment of poverty. Stereotyping by police discriminates against impoverished communities where a higher police presence is noted. Aggressive policing not only increases the likelihood of altercations between officers and community members, as well as takes community members out of the workforce, it also perpetuates the idea that impoverished people are a risk and are in need of more constant monitoring than others. Communities without resources are often more vulnerable, with little voice in matters of law enforcement, housing policies and educational matters.  


What is the School-to-Prison pipeline and why does it target Black and Latinx students?  

Black students are arrested at school in  disproportionately high numbers, often for the same infraction that their white counterparts are not. Exposure to structural injustices and biased policing in black neighborhoods fosters distrust in black youth, and a general fear of police beginning at a young age. Students of color experience the brunt of white supremacy. They are criminalized when teachers and administrators view them as hostile and dangerous on the basis of minor and infractions that would typically be ignored when coming from white students. According to Rosa Ramirez (2013), “Students of color…receive harsher punishment in schools, punishments that are often a precursor to their entry into the juvenile justice system”. As a result, these students – disproportionately African American and Latino boys – are criminalized (suspended, expelled, incarcerated) instead of educated, setting them up for a lifetime of challenges to participation in society.  

On a national level studies show that on average, over seven thousand students dropout of school daily. As a result, 1.3 million students will not graduate high school as scheduled. These dropouts are more likely to receive government assistance and be caught up in the prison system. The projected cost in lost income represent $335 billion (Alliance for Excellent Education, 2009). Studies shows that dropout rates are influenced by suspensions. Students who are repeatedly suspended are more likely to be incarcerated and drop out of school. 

In the U.S. 7,500 youth are jailed with adult populations. These youth have little or no access to education, as 40% of prisons do not provide services to educate them, and in no case are services an adequate replacement for public schools. Additionally less than 12% of jails provide educational service for special needs students and less than 8% provide vocational education. While many youth were incarcerated for one month, one in five youth incarcerated in adult jails spend over six months in jail, causing serious disruption in their education (Jailing Juveniles Report, 2007).

According to research, there is a strong connection between a student’s experience in school and their behavior in terms of delinquency and tendency to dropout (Monroe, 2005; Noguera 2003; & Voelkl, Welte and Wieczorek, 1999). Students who have disciplinary issues, i.e. suspensions, or expulsions have low motivation and often drop out of schools (Darden, 2010). Low-test scores and educational skill attainment have a strong correlation with student behavior. High stakes testing is closely tied to motivation and academic attainment and behavior, in the sense that failure in formative assessments can affect student motivation, as well as teacher’s attitude toward students (Woolfolk, 2007).   

African Americans and Latino students, who are persistently below national achievement standards, face harsher consequences for similar behaviors, such as what Skiba, et. al (2003) describes as a process of low achievement, discipline, suspensions, expulsion, and incarceration. This process contributes to the disproportionate number of African American and Latinos in U.S. criminal systems and jails (Jenkins, Moore, & Hamer, 2010; Monroe 2005). Interestingly, under Washington State Law, once a student is expelled they no longer have a right to education, yet once incarcerated they may receive some schooling (Simmons, 2012). Yet, after their incarceration, even with education, their employment possibilities are diminished. The result of these harsh punishments and student criminalization result in a reduction of life choices that leads Black, Latino, and students with disabilities away from educational opportunities and democratic participation in society toward prison, criminality and poverty. 

What are some responses to this problem? Click here to read more .


“Legal system” is a broad term used to describe the individuals, institutions and laws that govern our lives and enforce state control of them. The U.S. legal system as we experience it today does not treat every person as equals. The inequality exists across many identities and experiences because of historic injustices and the failure to adequately address them. Our prison system is unjust toward black people. They are imprisoned in disproportionate numbers and experience frequent police brutality and widespread discrimination in employment, health care, housing, courts, policing, and schools. The net effect is that this system prevents many–especially those with diverse identities such as Muslim, Trans, or Latinx–from experiencing a decent life. Legal punishment, moreover, disproportionately affects less affluent communities and those of color. Without the resources to pay bail or hire private attorneys, these communities suffer far more than others.   

Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow (2012)  describes how slave patrols function in ways similar to how law enforcement operates in Black and other communities of color. Alexander describes how the War on Drugs over the last thirty years impacted marginalized communities by the targeting of Black non-violent drug offenders. In the New Jim Crow, we see the historical injustices that shape legal systems today. Racial minorities, especially people of color, are thought of as high-risk criminals because they are more likely to have been or to be incarcerated. Consequently, police are implicitly biased to be more aware of these racial groups because they are stereotyped as criminals. 


Often news media are more concerned with ratings than they are with covering diverse, perspectives or the context around issues related to police violence and the surrounding social condition. Mass media has become the most popular medium of mass education, reports of racial violence are often skewed, reinforcing negative stereotypes familiar with viewers, preventing critical understandings necessary to understand the US racial divide. The media fails to accurately represent the ‘normality’ of police violence in communities of color, perpetuating violent and harmful stereotypes of Black people through negative media portrayals. This sort of coverage contributes to the ability of police to avoid accountability. Since media is often owned by corporate chains with significant numbers of newspapers, magazines, television, publishing, and films at their disposal, a few executive shape public perception and opinions about issues that should be decided by the people. In terms of police violence, since African Americans are portrayed as criminal, many media consumers believe it is acceptable to use violent force against them. The repetitious nature of media portrayals of violence against African Americans can cause people to tune out. Those directly impacted by police violence can be re-traumatized by seeing constant images of people killed or brutalized by law enforcement. Truth Teller Armani Brown said, “Every time people die it feels like it happens all over again.”  


The emotional distress arising from various situations, such as witnessing or personally experiencing violence, can cause trauma. Trauma can reside in our bodies, causing long-term stress. If trauma and grief are not dealt with, they can be passed on to subsequent generations. While police violence or instances of brutality can result in personal pain and suffering, the inability to have any control or agency in those instances can be humiliating. It can be implicitly used as a tool of suppression. Michele Alexander describes how targeting leads to the disproportionate numbers of men and women of color in the criminal justice system, and how their absence traumatizes their families and communities. This secondary trauma, attributed to the loss or lack of participation of a relative, friend, or community member, is exacerbated by financial hardship and loss of resources and possibility when family members and friends are incarcerated or killed by police. Because of the direct and indirect violence enacted against communities of color, the violence is often re-enacted among other community members.